May 27, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…?” “David Sedaris”


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “David Sedaris” Chapter 71
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams

I stumbled upon Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris in the paperback section of the book store years ago, and it was several chapters in when I first came across his short story “Big Boy”.  His recounting of an Easter get-together with friends, where upon entering the bathroom he discovered to his horror someone had left a huge coiling defecate swirling solitarily in the bowl that stubbornly wouldn’t flush away.  His fussy travail that followed—fearing that he’d be blamed for its menacing presence—was laugh-out-loud funny—right up my scatalogical alley—and hooked me on his brand of observational humor.

When my buddy Brian Barge and his wife Mary invited Michelle and I to one of Sedaris’ readings in Tacoma at the Pantages Theatre, I jumped at the chance to see my favorite living author in the flesh (John Kennedy Toole and Dostoevsky are long gone), and hear his high-pitched voice that he so often claims leads telemarketers to refer to him as “Mrs. Sedaris”.  We thought it’d be a good chance for the wives to finally meet, so we set it up with dinner prior at The Matador—an upscale Mexican joint a couple of blocks away from the theater.

The Matador was hopping, but since they wouldn’t take a reservation we were forced to go a few doors down to The Office—a bit of a dive bar with perfectly adequate over-saturated salads and utensil-less burger platters.  What the hell—it’s a night out and the Barges are titillating company.  The theater (or ‘theatre’ depending on which Google entry you go by) was grandly reopening, and as we entered its ornate foyer, there sat the diminutive Sedaris in his culottes right by the entrance, benignly signing books behind some plexiglass.  I snapped a few quick pictures before my wife nudged me and pointed to the ‘no photos’ sign.

The author entered the theater to enthusiastic applause.  I must admit—though I read a lot, I don’t go to a lot of book readings, and were it not this particular writer I doubt I would attend many others.  His clever snippets and bon mots were swimming along effortlessly until he tapped into a lengthy, very dark recollection of his borderline pedophile, recently deceased father—the same hapless Lou referred to in many of his previous books as being a somewhat clueless, conservative, hypercritical yet harmless foil to the six pack of quick witted Sedaris kids.  The fifteen minute therapy session didn’t come to any kind of tidy resolution or generate anything but a smattering of uncomfortable laughter.  It was a very honest portrait that he seemed to be workshopping due to his blue penciling throughout.  There’s a bravery to raw honesty, especially about oneself or those closest to you—a kind of shared humanity laid bare at the brutish ugliness of unvarnished reality.  I felt a prickly dread through much of this singular retelling—uncomfortable bits about questionably inspected butt cheeks and wolfishly proposed nudity and it was the first thing we all referred to as we reconnoitered outside the theater.

I didn’t bring a book to sign—I’m not much of an autograph hound (to what end, really?)   I much enjoyed the show, but understood my wife’s trepidation after that odd father bit.  I compared it to an exploration of his regarding his sister Tiffany’s suicide that I’d previously read—a seeming attempt to wrap his head around her untimely death as well as his refusal to accept her last collect call and the derived guilt therein.  It, too, didn’t have a satisfying conclusion (how could it?)  Much of life doesn’t…and I guess that’s the point—as squeamishly true as that might make us.  

I’m mostly through with his latest—A Carnival of Snackery—Jack left me alone to read most of it last week on our flights to and from LA.  I’ve already pre-ordered his next one, Happy-Go-Lucky, due out May 31st of next year.  I’ve read all his books and will continue to do so, but based on his mid-60’s mortality and past decades of smoking, who knows how many more he’s got in him.  Someone in the audience queried what led him to his literary life and he pointed to a moment in his mid-20’s when he declared himself a writer—simple as that.  It left me thinking that there might be something to that.  Go declare your thing and work towards that.  And never forget your humanity along the way—even if you struggle to compartmentalize all of your experiences satisfactorily.